John Cowper Powys was once much better known, though there remains a coterie of devoted fans. Born to a reverend in Derbyshire 8 October 1872, Powys was part of a famously talented family of 11 children. He graduated from Cambridge in 1894. He was a teacher and published some poetry. In 1905, he started lecturing in America, winning renown for his philosophical, literary, and historical talks. He was friendly with Theodore Dreiser from early in the century. Although married, Powys took up with a number of women, and established a second long-term relationship in the early 1920s, with a much younger woman. He published his first novel in 1915, then books of literary criticism, autobiographical works, philosophy, and more novels. Powys’s breakthrough move was 1929’s Wolf Solent.
Powys traveled between Britain and the U.S. until the early 1930s. He had anarchist leanings, supporting Emma Goldman and the Republicans in Spain, and staking out positions against both the fascists and Stalinists. (Powys, though, was anti-Semitic, and unhappy when a girlfriend went to work for the Little Blue Books, which was put out by a Jewish man.) He settled in Wales in 1935, and many of his later books were set here, set in the deep past. They are Romantic, with mystic and ecstatic themes. He had a divided reputation, his books not fitting easily into the modernist canon— one biographer said that they were analogically structured, the plot determined by the references, and so surrealistic, in a way—though he had admirers, including Dreiser and Henry Miller. He ha also attracted a number of biographers, and his richly documented life has allowed for experimental investigations of the twentieth-century temper.